Vision of an interactive web platform mapping adaptation controversies in France

A key objective for the MEDEA project is the delivery of “an online platform offering a series of interactive maps of the debate on climate change adaptation. This platform should provide a legible and yet precise description of the debate and make it available not only to experts, but to any interested citizen as well.” The platform should provide a solution, through a mix of interactivity, narration, and multi-media, to two opposing needs: 1) Preserving as much as possible the original complexity and richness of the debate on adaptation; 2) Providing a set of representations simple enough to be easily readable by a wide public.

 Based on preliminary discussion of the platform with the ENSAD/Sciences Po team, some initial obstacles, as well as certain methodological and structural responses to these obstacles, have begun to emerge that will put us on a path to achieving the contradictory goals set out above. A key challenge in achieving a successful representation of controversies is in establishing the appropriate “terrain” of the controversy. If we take the idea of controversy as a unit of analysis seriously, what type of criteria do we apply to determine who and what are to be included as actors, objects and events of the controversy?  In addition, if our premise is that controversies result from the convergence of differing “points of view” (I’m using POV as a shorthand for what we could also call different epistemologies) regarding an issue of collective consequence, how do we represent and maintain the various “points of view” POVs of the controversy debate, while at the same time keeping intact the tensions and ellipses between each POV? Below is a brief recap, in disconnected notes of the state of this conversation and some next steps moving forward:

 1) To begin addressing these methodological challenges, we propose linking the approach developed at the medialab of cartography of controversies with an enthnographic study of two particular sub-controversies in the debate around adaptation to climate change in France. These sub-controversies are driven by uncertainties within climate science, and their connection to questions currently being asked in specific communities in France, namely: a) uncertainties in how best to estimate sea-level rise off the coast of Brittany in order to prepare for future climate impacts, and; b) uncertainties in the use of downscaled climate model data as an input into debates about how best to manage the distribution of water on the Garonne river over the next 20 years.

Using these two examples as case studies will help us follow the circulation of scientific uncertainties along a chain of social activities that occur at numerous sites, with changing actors, at different moments in time. Tracing the communications and feedbacks of these various communities in how they treat, define and overcome these uncertainties will give us two case-studies to narrativize the relationship between scientific knowledge about climate change impacts and the political and social will to address those impacts. 

2) Elements to be included in the web-platform design [digital representations, actor maps, film and audio clips, text];

DIGITAL METHODS (to blend with interactivity, analysis and writing): 

  • Visualization of IPCC participation and authorship

    • Mapping of the authors internally within the IPCC over its 5 ARs and their changing of positions, institution affiliation and countries represented. Such a mapping of the internal actors of the IPCC will show:

      • a) the enormity of the project and diversity of participants;

      • b) the evolution of climate knowledge over time;

      • c) the presence and dominance of certain individuals, institutions and countries in the production and evaluation of climate science;

      • d) a test of the IPCC’s own rules of participation;

      • e) a resource to return to and compare with other digital maps of scientific citations, as well as maps of discourse on climate politics and climate change in the media.

  • The Rahmstorf Affair

    • STS analysis and narration of the semi-empirical method of sea-level rise modeling and the debates/controversies within the scientific community about this method and its relationship to other types of climate knowledge (dynamical modeling); the circulation of climate knowledge into new institutional settings.

    • Textual analysis of small corpus of texts for the “forms” of conflict in scientific debates

    • Navicrawler and digital mapping of how the semi-empirical method has been instrumentalized in the debates around sea-level rise;

    • Tracking of sea-level rise in the press to trace range of estimates used by the press

  • Historical emergence of climate adaptation as strategy in addressing climate change

    • Visualization of corpus of texts of negotiations w/IDDRI (visualized by medialab and Stanford)

      • UNFCCC documents (country position papers and meeting reports)

      • Earth Negotiation Bulletins

      • IPCC reports (particularly WGII and WGI chapters on sea-level rise and modeling)

    • Visualization of corpora chronologically (perhaps using tools such as w/CoreTEXT)

  • Analysis of selective adaptation corpus of scientific literature

    • Analysis of full texts and phrases of scientific articles on adaptation culled from SCOPUS and ISI Web of Science

    • Goal: Using medialab tools such as Anta, we hope to trace the variation in use of different words and concepts in relation to adaptation, over time, as well as changes in participation by different disciplines in defining adaptation.

  • Comparison of historical storm events in Brittany

    • A textual analysis of news and media coverage of Xynthia versus another storm 50 years ago (large storm in the Vendee from 1954];

    • Goal: to compare and reveal the difference in perception and discourse of risk from extreme weather events [perhaps in order to think of the role of media in circulating and transforming laboratory knowledge; their role in maintaining, enhancing and exacerbating the controversies in adaptation]

MAP OF ADAPTATION IN FRANCE (to help structure the importance of our two case-studies) 

  • Construct a series of interactive maps giving a more comprehensive overview of climate adaptation controversies in France (Before descending down to the level of our two sub-controversies in the territories in Brittany and the Garonne)

    • Actor-Network Diagram

    • Tree of Disagreement

    • Timeline of controversies related to adaptation in France

ETHNOGRAPHIC METHODS (to blend into a more explicit documentary storytelling style)

  • Narratives of our two sub-controversies, the “cascade of controversies” and their subsequent resolution: <..>. Can we schematize this process with our two case studies in a Callonian way (i.e. Saint Brieuc)?

    • Brittany, Sea Level Rise and COCORISCO

    • The Garonne, Water Availability and ADAPTEAU

  • Filmed interviews/scenes w/actors

    • Develop through a semi-structured and participant observation filmic style mini-scenes that constitute multi-media POVs of different actors of our two “sub-controversies” along different moments and sites of the controversy; Lists of actors to be interviewed:

      • Climatologists and other scholars (LSCE, science historians, etc.)

      • Administrators (ONERC, ADEM)

      • Policy makers (Region, Department, Commune)

      • Resource Users (private enterprise, private individuals)

  • Map representations of the circuits of debate and uncertainty

    • Drawings of the geography of our controversies that visualize the “chain of controversy”, the different actors located on the chain, their moments/spaces of interaction and the tools/mediums through which they interact. This will inform also who we follow in our inquiry.